Cephas Thompson

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Portrait of a Young Woman, 1804-05, oil on canvas, in the Milwaukee Art Museum

Cephas Thompson (July 1, 1775 – November 6, 1856) was a successful, self-taught, early nineteenth-century portrait painter in the United States, who was born, died, and lived most of his life in Middleborough, Massachusetts.

Thompson's father fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Thompson married Olive Leonard on March 18, 1802. Their son, Cephas Giovanni Thompson, became a painter of portraits and landscape in his own right, and a friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne. A daughter Florantha married missionary Granville Sproat, and after spending time teaching at La Pointe, Wisconsin, moved to California during the gold rush. Their daughter Elvira (Cephas Thompson's granddaughter) married James Hutchings, the early promoter of Yosemite.[1]

Although Thompson lived most of his life in Middleborough, he produced portraits throughout New England and from 1800-25 also made annual trips to the south during the winter months to paint in Alexandria, Virginia, Baltimore, Maryland, New Orleans, Norfolk, Virginia, Philadelphia, and the Carolinas and Georgia. When about fifty years of age, he settled permanently in his home in Middleborough.

Among his portraits were those of John Marshall, Stephen Decatur, David Ramsay of South Carolina, John Howard Payne, and George Washington Parke Custis, who was his pupil. The largest collection of his work is in the Boston Athenæum.

Thompson met the famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne on his trip to Europe. They became good friends and Hawthorne wrote a book about some of Thompson's art.


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